Church Planting in Rural Communities

Doug Foltz wrote a post on his blog that really got me thinking.  He is submitting a concept about church planting in small towns to Leadership Network for their Ideation Experience.   Doug asked for comments on his thesis for promoting rural church planting and I felt compelled to reply.  I have faced some very unique challenges and rewards as a rural church planter and have found few other planters that could relate to my experience.  Most planters are starting church in urban or suburban settings and so their methods and models are different.  Here are Doug’s ideas and my comments are below:

There is an endless supply of video based content for services being generated by multi-site churches.  We need to create a distribution platform for that content and provide it for free to church plants with leaders who adopt best practices.

We need to utilize social media to create online learning communities for coaching and peer support.

We need to recruit a new type of leader.  Leaders that are bivocational.  Using video based content makes it possible for a planter to start part time.

Recruitment should shift to successful campus ministries and half timers as a source for such leaders.

We should engage Bible Colleges to provide student internships.

Funding needs will be substantially less.  You significantly limit the biggest expenses of salary, marketing and facility.

Use national platforms such as Exponential to spread the idea.

As a church planter in a rural community with a population of about 5,000, I wholeheartedly agree with the idea that we need more small town church plants. I felt compelled by God to plant Mountain Valley Church (www.mountainvalleychurch.net) two years ago in Montevallo, AL.

I’m a bi-vocational church planter who hasn’t finished seminary. I work full time as an engineer and full time as a pastor :) It has been a great privilege and incredible challenge to start a church in this town. I’ve rubbed shoulders with many church planters and found very few that were crazy enough to plant in small town! I’ve attended many conferences and found that the “typical” church planting model doesn’t apply to me.

I have considered becoming a multi-site of our parent church in the suburbs. I’ve discussed it with our core group and they unanimously feel that it isn’t the right fit for us or our community. I see the value of utilizing a video venue to lighten my load, but consider it an essential part of connecting with my people. We have used video teaching extensively in our small groups which has lightened my load considerably. I think each planter must analyze the culture and determine if it would accept a video venue.

I would agree that more material could be distributed to church planters for free or reduced cost. I’m constantly balancing the need for resources to teach or lead with the limited budget I have. I’ve been frustrated by tools that can really make a positive impact on our church that are too expensive for us to use. I’m working to utilize open source alternatives to cut costs (ie. WordPress, OpenOffice, etc.). I would love for some of the greater minds in software, video production, internet development, social media, etc. to help us utilize free and/or cost efficient resources to organize and spread the Gospel more efficiently.

You’re right on with coaching/mentoring. I’ve wanted to be involved with coaching to a greater degree, but have been limited by my full time job. I can’t travel much or attend local seminars that happen during the week. I’d love to see a coaching network that used off the shelf video conferencing (like TokBox) and networking tools to share ideas and troubleshoot problems. Most resources put out by planting networks and our denominations favor the full time pastor.

We need to rally around bi-vocational church planters. Not everyone is called to give up their secular job. In fact, I think there are significant factors in favor of planting as a bi-vocational pastor. That’s for another post for another day….

Funding is less, but not as small as you might think. While we don’t need $100,000 to get started, there is another dynamic at work. We are serving and reaching a low-income demographic. While we have successfully assimilated these people into the church, they don’t bring a significant financial resource to the church. We have survived on minimal funding, but are very limited in the ways we can reach out to the community.

More thoughts to come…

2 thoughts on “Church Planting in Rural Communities

  1. George keep up the good work. Thanks for the hard work. You have an uphill battle, but on the positive side, the benefit of being out of the mold is that you get a vantage point to speak prophetically to the rest of the church planting world.

    God can give you a prophetic voice that calls other church planters to rethink their paradigms and the things that are "assumed." I think here of Newbigin's mostly excellent book Gospel in a Pluralistic Society.

    A couple of specific thoughts. In my experience as a pastor–generally speaking–and as a soon-to-be suburban church planter, "limits" and "downsides" almost always bring a greater potential reward/Gospel payoff. As men of God, where others see a failure, we can see, with eyes of faith, opportunities.

    I've been a pastor in a rural context before and looking back, I had a lot of preconceived ideas about what rural ministry should or could look like. Your situation is even more challenging in that you're working bivocationally. But, for rural folks, do you find that gives you a greater degree of spiritual leverage in some people's lives?

    On mentoring: I think pastors in general deal with isolation and feeling alone/lonely. Most of us could use a mentor to speak into our lives–even more, to listen. The telephone can be a tool available if you have men to fill those shoes. For me, the hardest part is saying, "I need help."

    One other thought: here's a great website that offers free and discounted prices for NFP organizations for software packages: http://techsoup.org/.

    Great work, good thoughts. Godspeed, brother.

  2. Phil,

    I appreciate your encouragement. My mission field is no more difficult than others. I think that God is teaching me not to rely on "transfer growth." The people we are reaching are generally unchurched. We aren't attracting the "wandering sheep" from other congregations and I suppose that's good. We must remain focused on the lost in our community rather than becoming transfixed on numbers.

    I do think that being bivocational helps me stand on the same level as my congregation. I can identify with their daily activities and I'm very sensitive to the issue of burning out our people. If I have a difficult time managing activities at church then my congregation does too.

    Amen to the feelings of isolation. I feel alone even when surrounded by a wonderful people and a core group that cares about me. I suppose it's the unique investment that church planters have in the church. I have a hard time putting down my church work.

    I agree that mentoring is critical, but have found it difficult to find people who have the time to truly help. I'm passionate about learning from others and will continue to network with other men of God who can share wisdom with me.

    Thanks for your input! May God bless your life and ministry as you seek Him!

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